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Reading Readiness – Get Ready For School!

Here’s a fun activity to try with your child that promotes critical thinking and school readiness.  This idea can be adapted for any age from preschool through grade school and beyond.  Best of all, no supplies are needed!

Have your child turn his or her back to you.  Using your finger draw a letter on your child’s back and see if he or she can identify the letter.  After he or she guesses the letter, see if they can come up with a word that begins with that letter!

If this is too difficult for your child, try it out first on the palm of his or her hand.  That way, your child can see the letter being written.  With younger children who might not know their letters yet, try simple shapes, like circles, triangles and squares.  Older children will enjoy the challenge of entire words or a more complex picture, such as a tree, a plane or a house.

Have your child do the same to your back as well.  It is great practice for writing, spelling and simple fine motor skills and dexterity!

Saying Hello To The School Routine

August is here, and soon (if not already), children will begin to head back to school.  Whether it is preschool a couple of mornings a week, a traditional grade-school program, college or even homeschooling, establishing a routine can make the next day run so much smoother.  The key to the entire process, though, is to start NOW, not the night before.

1.  If your child has been staying up later in the summer, chances are he or she is also sleeping in.  To adjust Little Timmy’s bedtime schedule, do it gradually over a couple of weeks.  Put him to bed 10 – 15 minutes earlier one night and for the following 3 -4 nights, then adjust another 10 – 15 minutes every several nights until the desired bedtime is reached.  A gradual change is much easier on our bodies than an immediate one (think jet lag!).

2.  One of our biggest adjustments is our morning routine when school begins.  The summer has been filled with leisurely breakfasts, cuddles under the covers and hours in our pajamas before getting dressed for the day – a stark contrast to the rest of the year!  To prepare for the get-up-and-go routine of school, I plan early morning activities for my kids that involved getting up and getting ready.  We plan early morning bike rides, watering the plants, taking a walk, or doing our grocery shopping first thing.  My kids are dressed and ready, and we’re doing something we enjoy to get our day started (okay, not the grocery shopping, but they tolerate it well!).

3.  If your child is attending a school that holds a “Meet the Teacher” night, then go MEET THE TEACHER!  This is the evening where it finally sinks in for my almost 9 year old.  He gets to see his room, his desk his teacher, and his friends, and we get to casually visit where he will spend the next 9 months during the days.  In our district, we also drop off our school supplies on Meet the Teacher night so that our son doesn’t have to haul all that stuff to school on the first day.

4.  For kids that are just getting into a formal education routine, following directions can sometimes be daunting, especially in a group setting.  Check with your local library for story times where you can go with him or her and learn how to be a listener in a positive, casual atmosphere.  Also check into local museums for programs for children; our local children’s museum has a storytime each day that lasts about 15 minutes, which is the perfect length for small children.  Parks and Recreation departments also offer similar programs.

5.  Begin those healthy habits before school starts.  Work with your child on hand-washing, not just after going to the bathroom and before eating, but at other times, too.  When children are in a group setting, germs are plentiful; teach your child to wash his or her hands frequently to limit the spreading of germs.  Also, evaluate your breakfast menu.  If you tend to be the “pop tart mom” or the “sugar cereal queen”, consider healthier choices for breakfast, such as yogurt, hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, fruit and whole-grain breads.  These choices are great for improving attention spans and limiting that “sugar rush”.

6.  Don’t wait for the homework to head home before working on school work.  Establish a reading time now for your kids, and limit the amount of time the television is on in the house.  Children of any age enjoy being read to, and what a great bonding time for you and your child.

Here’s to a great start to school this year, no matter where or when!

Fifteen Minutes

When kids hear the word “summer”, their heads are filled with visions of swimming, trips, lazy mornings in jammies and playtime – all the time.  The last thing on their minds is anything school-related.  But, summertime can be a great time to keep up those academic skills as well.  And, all it takes is fifteen minutes.

In our house, we set a timer each morning for fifteen minutes, and during that time period, we find something school-related to do.  For our first week home, we kept a journal of our caterpillars and eventual butterflies that we hatched.  We spent fifteen minutes each morning, reading and learning about their development, recording observations in a spiral notebook and drawing sketches of what we saw.  It was an amazing science lesson while still making it fun for the kids (by the way, I did it with them – why should just the kids get to have fun and draw pictures every day?).

Some mornings, we take out my son’s old math workbook from school and find a page or two to complete in order to keep our math skills up.  We alternate math work with our piano practice.  Piano during the school year is a 30 minute-a-day schedule for us; in the summer, I cut my son back to fifteen minutes, every other day.  It gives him a break from the regular routine while still giving him the opportunity to keep his skills sharp. 

Other academic activities could be incorporated this way: reading (my son is an avid reader, so I don’t have to prod him each day to read, but a timer and fifteen minutes would work well for many kids), writing (writing letters, filling out a shopping list for Mom, making a birthday list), measurement, and even art can all benefit from a bit of practice over the summer.

By the time my son’s timer goes off, breakfast is ready and our day begins.  Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes.  And, that fifteen minutes flies by!

Don’t Let Summer Stop The Learning!

Our last day of school is quickly approaching here, and my 2nd grader is definitely in tune to that.  Each day, he tells us how many more school days he has left, and then he proceeds to name all the fun things he’s going to do over the summer, from sleepovers to trips to the grandparents’ house to swimming and playing with the neighbors.  He also knows that many of the things he does in school now will be carried over to the summer.

While taking a break from formal learning environments can do everyone a world of good, it is equally important to maintain those skills learned during school in order to be prepared for the following year.  Personally, I’m a scheduler and a planner, and thankfully, so is my child.  We have a schedule of sorts that we set up for the summer (not set in stone – we must allow for those great trips to Grandpa’s house!) that is generally pain-free and can be fun for all of us.

No matter what age your child, spend some time this summer refreshing those learned skills and taking time to get to know the academic side of your child.  Here is a sampling of what we’ll be doing this summer:

READING:  My son and I hit the half-price bookstore a few weeks ago and chose books we wanted to read for the summer.  We have eight titles total that we plan on reading together and discussing.  I ended up buying duplicate copies of three of them so that we can each have our own book, and the rest I will hunt down at the public library when we are ready to read them.  The point is to READ, and READ CONSISTENTLY.  I’m not as strict on his book choices during the summer, although we do decide on titles together.  My son is a morning person, so we will dedicate about 15 – 30 minutes each morning before breakfast to reading time.  Then, over breakfast, we can discuss what he’s read for the day.  It is a great way to connect with my child, learn more about his reading preferences, and give him some much-needed practice in reading and comprehension.

MATH: The easiest math for us to work on during the summer is money.  This is about the time of the year that we re-evaluate my son’s allowance and make any changes that are needed.  My son is a part of that process.  We set up a budget for the summer, breaking down his weekly allowance into savings, church offering, and any special purchases he would like to make during the summer (a new video game or a special toy he really wants).  We set up a chart to track his money, and he is responsible for completing his chart each week. 

Another fun math activity my son does each year involves road trips to the grandparents’ houses.  We spend several days at each grandparents’ home during the summer.  My son is the navigator for the trip.  We equip him with a state road map, markers, and a ruler.  Together, we calculate how many miles total we will be driving, then we break our trip down into increments with rest stops.  We look for interesting places to stop along the way and work those into our itenerary.  He keeps a written log of our trip as well as the map, and it makes the trip far more interesting to him than simply sitting in the back seat!

SCIENCE: From cooking to water play, involving your child in some fun activities is a great way to bring science into the home.  Have your child help prepare a special meal or dessert, and find out what different ingredients do in the recipe (such as baking soda versus baking powder!).  When playing in the sprinkler, slip n slide or wading pool, give your child a variety of containers to explore volume and fractions.  Science is all around!

WRITING: Our son is responsible for writing one letter a week during the summer (although with the rising cost of postage, we may resort to email this year!).  His audience may be a grandparent, a cousin, a friend or even a former teacher.  We simply want our child to practice his writing skills, and composing letters is a great way to do it.  My son also loves to make “books”.  I simply staple paper together into a book format and he gets busy creating a story for himself, his brother, or even for a friend.  Our younger son will also be composing his own mail this year, too.  He is very excited about it!  Our older son helps create our shopping list at the store as well.  Any kind of writing a child can do is great practice.

By taking a look at the things you typically do during the summer months, it is quite easy to see where academics can be woven into the framework of the day without losing the actual fun.  Take a moment to find ways to actively and enthusiastically engage your child in learning this summer.  The payoff will be amazing when school starts again in the fall!

Meeting Children At Their Level = Success

Jenna* is a child in my pre-k class.  She is your typical just-turned-5-year-old – curious, sweet, full of energy.  Jenna comes from a strong family unit with a brother who probably tests off the IQ scale, a dad who is a high school math teacher, and a mom who is a nurse.  Jenna is in crisis.

Jenna’s family, without realizing what they are doing, are putting Jenna into a tailspin before she even gets to kindergarten.  Jenna’s mom and dad are doing what many parents do at this stage: they are encouraging beginning reading skills, such as sounding out letters and words, modeling good writing skills and having Jenna do the same, and living in the “teachable moment”.

Jenna, however, isn’t ready for this.

Jenna is now exhibiting classic symptoms of a child who is being “pushed” academically.  She is having nightmares at home, is reluctant to come to school, bursts into tears at any given moment, is terrified of her parents finding out about things she does at school, and spends most nights in tears when her mom reads out loud to her.

Pre-kindergarteners are highly sensitive to change, and this specific time in their lives is chock full of change.  My preschool class is very aware of the approaching end of school and upcoming summer break.  They are also keenly aware of the “scattering” of friends that will occur as each moves on to a different school next year.  While it is an exciting time for them, it is also a time full of uncertainty, and children can become “stressed out” over such change.

What Jenna’s parents (and I on occasion) are witnessing is an outward show of emotion from Jenna.  She is scared she isn’t like her big brother, the genius, and she will tell you that her daddy teaches at the big school, and she is NOT going there – EVER. 

What Jenna needs is acceptance for who she is – a young, five year-old little girl who likes ribbons and horses, drawing rainbows and hugs.  She knows her letters and numbers, but developmentally, she isn’t ready to start reading or writing.  Jenna needs for her parents to read to her every day in a fun and non-threatening way, to learn to enjoy the printed word and relish in stories, and in her own time, she will learn to tell and read on her own.  By stepping back from the “teachable moment” and allowing Jenna to flourish at her own level of success, they will, in turn, make her a successful student.

*The name of the student has been changed.

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